December 11, 2020 – “We’re at the cutting edge of technology that, as kids, we laughed about and that is now becoming our reality,” said David Sherwyn, John and Melissa Ceriale Professor of Hospitality Human Resources and a professor of law, when he led a panel of experts in a discussion about automation and customer service in October. The webinar, Robots in the Hospitality Industry: Adopting new technologies while maintaining the human touch, was hosted by eCornell and the Cornell Center for Innovative Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations (CIHLER) in the School of Hotel Administration. Sherwyn is the academic director of CIHLER.

The webinar’s speakers are all actively developing and implementing automated services for restaurants and hotels. Sherwyn moderated the discussion, which featured Linda Pouliot, founder and CEO of Dishcraft Robotics, Peter Sieff, CEO of ST Engineering at Aethon, and Steve Rimmer, a principal in New York Metro Transaction Services at PwC.

Key takeaways from “Robots in the Hospitality Industry”

Each speaker offered insights into the development of automated service innovations that respond to customer concerns brought about by COVID-19.

1. New service models emerge.

“We’re having this conversation because of the amount of innovation,” Rimmer noted, showing images of robots working as touchless hotel room cleaners, desk clerks, and waiters. Collaboration in the modular approach, he added, is increasing the potential to expand robots’ cognitive abilities and will allow them to provide increasingly “effective, service-minded automation.”

2. Innovative interactions increase robots’ versatility.

Sieff reported that Aethon already uses its robots safely in the healthcare industry. Now the company is focusing on a class of autonomous robots working in both front-facing and back-of-house hotel settings.

Out of the customer’s view, machines can clean linens, floors, and air, and move dirty dishes and towels from floor to floor without requiring special infrastructure. Front-facing robots can interact with guests in a variety of ways: as desk clerks, waiters, porters, and more. Guests can interact with robots via a phone app.

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